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1968-69 Minnesota Pipers

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Minnesota PipersAmerican Basketball Association (1968-1969)

Born: June 28, 1968 – The Pittsburgh Pipers relocate to Minneapolis, MN
Moved: 1969 (Pittsburgh Condors)

Arenas: 

Team Colors:

Owners: William Erickson & Gabe Rubin

ABA Championships: None

 

The American Basketball Association began play in 1967 and established its league officers in Minneapolis. Former Minneapolis Lakers superstar George Mikan served as the ABA’s first commissioner. And the Twin Cities received one of the ABA’s eleven original franchises – the Minnesota Muskies. The Muskies, led by rookie center Mel Daniels, were outstanding and posted the second-best record in the league at 50-28. But Minnesotans ignored the team at the box office. The Muskies moved to Miami after the ABA’s inaugural season ended in May 1968.

Minnesota got another shot at the ABA just month later. Gabe Rubin, owner of the 1968 league champion Pittsburgh Pipers, sold a majority interest in his club to Minnesota attorney William Erickson. The Pipers had a superb roster of players, including the league’s reigning MVP Connie Hawkins, All-Star guard Charlie Williams, former Duke star Art Heyman and power forward Trooper Washington, who led the ABA in field goal percentage in 1967-68. Hawkins and Williams were both blacklisted from the NBA at the time due to dubious collegiate point shaving allegations.

Crucially, Pittsburgh Pipers head coach Vince Cazzetta did not move west with the team. Pipers’ ownership reportedly declined to pay his relocation expenses. Minnesota replaced Cazzetta with a man named Jim Harding. Harding was a collegiate coach, known for winning records and short tenures at a string of small schools. Harding was a drillmaster and self-described perfectionist, putting the Pipers through exhausting practices, banning soul music in the locker room and raging on the sidelines.

Minnesota PipersThe defending champs raced off to an 18-8 start in the fall of 1968. Connie Hawkins averaged nearly 35 points per game through the first month, including an ABA record 57 against the New York Nets on November 27, 1968. Jim Harding earned a spot coaching the Eastern Conference squad at the January 1968 ABA All-Star Game by virtue of the Pipers’ hot start. But Harding was beginning to unravel. Feuds with his players and Pipers management went public. In late December, Harding experienced chest pains and doctors diagnosed with him high blood pressure. He was ordered to take a six-week break from coaching the Pipers, but returned after three.

Meanwhile, injuries started to take a toll on the Pipers. Connie Hawkins missed 25 games after mid-season knee surgery. Minnesota’s record stood at 24-14 when Harding returned from his medical leave in mid-January 1969. The Pipers stumbled into the All-Star Break with a 2-5 record after Harding resumed his coaching duties.

Simmering tensions with the coach finally boiled over at the 1969 ABA All-Star Game in Louisville, Kentucky. Hawkins missed the game due to his knee problems. Trooper Washington and Charlie Williams represented the Pipers on the Eastern Conference team, along with Harding. Harding got into a late night physical altercation with Pipers founder and co-owner Gabe Rubin at the host hotel on the night before the game. The fracas left both men visibly bruised and scratched. Commissioner George Mikan removed Harding as coach of the Eastern All-Stars. The Pipers fired Harding  shortly thereafter. He never coached professional basketball again.

The Pipers faded in the second half and finished 4th in the East with a 36-42 record. They lost in the first round of the 1969 ABA playoffs to the Miami Floridians – the franchise that had been the Minnesota Muskies the year before.

Connie Hawkins averaged 30.4 points and 11.4 boards for the season. The Hawk earned First Team ABA All-Star honors for 1969 despite missing a third of the season. After the season, he settled his lawsuit with the National Basketball Association. The NBA ended his ban and paid him a $1.3 million settlement. He left the ABA and made his long-delayed NBA debut with the Phoenix Suns in the fall of 1969 . He was 27 years old. The Basketball Hall-of-Fame inducted Connie Hawkins in its Class of 2012.

The Pipers proved no more viable in the Twin Cities than the Muskies were the year before. At first the Pipers tried to cultivate a regional appeal by splitting games between the Met Center and the Duluth Arena. But the Duluth games were a box office flop and the experiment was abandoned by January 1969. After the 1968-69 season concluded in April 1969, co-owner William Erickson gave up on the Pipers and relinquished the club to founder Gabe Rubin. In the absence of any other options, Rubin moved the team back to Pittsburgh for the 1969-70 season. The franchise eventually went out of business in 1972.

 

Minnesota Pipers Shop

Loose Balls: The Short Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto


Met Center Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

 

Minnesota Pipers Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Power forward Tom “Trooper” Washington suffered a fatal heart attack on the sideline while coaching the minor league Pittsburgh Pit Bulls on November 20, 2004. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary.

Guard/forward Art Heyman passed away on August 27, 2012 at age 71. New York Times obituary.

Pipers Hall-of-Fame forward/center Connie Hawkins died on October 6, 2017 at the age of 75. New York Times obituary.

 

Links

American Basketball Association Media Guides

American Basketball Association Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 26th, 2017 at 4:05 pm

1970-1975 Utah Stars

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Utah StarsAmerican Basketball Association (1971-1975)

Born: June 11, 1970 – The Los Angeles Stars relocate to Salt Lake City, Utah
Folded: December 2, 1975

Arena: The Salt Palace

Team Colors:

Owners:

ABA Champions: 1971

 

The Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association were the state of Utah’s first major league professional sports franchise. The team arrived in June 1970 after cable television pioneer Bill Daniels acquired and moved the ABA’s Los Angeles Stars club. The Stars were unloved in L.A., but Daniels acquired a very strong team. Los Angeles played in the 1970 ABA championship series, losing to the Indiana Pacers.

The Stars’ first season in Salt Lake was a charmed one. The team broke the ABA’s season attendance record with 262,342 fans for 42 home dates. On the court, center Zelmo Beaty arrived from the NBA. The two-time NBA All-Star actually signed with the Los Angeles Stars in 1969, but had to sit out the 1969-70 season before he could jump leagues. The Stars met the Kentucky Colonels in the 1971 ABA championship series. For the decisive 7th game on May 18, 1971, a standing-room crowd of 13,260 Utahns packed the 12,224-seat Salt Palace. The Stars knocked off the Colonels 131-121. Beaty earned Playoff MVP honors.

The Stars won the ABA’s Western Division for the next three seasons. The road back to the ABA championship ran through the Indiana Pacers. In 1972 and 1973, the Pacers eliminated the Stars in the playoff semi-finals. In 1974, the Stars best Indiana in the semis but then lost to the Julius Erving-led New York Nets in the championship series.

Utah StarsThe Stars final two seasons were defined by ownership turmoil. Owner Bill Daniels announced three separate sales of the Stars between April 1974 and June 1975.  All three sales blew up and ended with the cash-strapped Daniels back in control of the team. Amidst the confusion, All-Stars Zelmo Beaty, Jimmy Jones and Willie Wise and head Coach Joe Mullaney left the team.

Meanwhile, the Stars made national headlines by signing 19-year old Moses Malone to a 5-year, $1 million contract in the fall of 1974. Malone became the first player in the modern era to jump directly from high school to pro basketball.

Bill Daniels’ third and final effort to sell the Utah Stars came in June 1975. Daniels unloaded the team to a Mormon con artist named Snell Johnson and his brother Lyle. The Johnson brothers talked a big game about their sales prowess but put no capital of their own into the team. Less than a month into the 1975-76 ABA season, Daniels was forced to step back in and try to raise enough cash to keep the Stars afloat. The ABA terminated the franchise on December 2, 1975 for failing to make payroll. The Stars had a 4-12 record at the time. Most of the team’s top players, including Moses Malone and All-Star Ron Boone, were sold off to the Spirits of St. Louis to offset the team’s unpaid bills.

Pro basketball returned to Utah and the Salt Palace in 1979 when the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz moved to Salt Lake. Tom Nissalke, who was the last head coach of the Utah Stars in 1975, became the first coach of the Utah Jazz in 1979.

 

Utah Stars Shop

Loose Balls: The Short Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto

 

Utah Stars Memorabilia

 

Stars Video

20-minute documentary from the Stars’ 1971 ABA championship campaign: “We’re No. 1: Highlights of the 1970-71 Season”.

 

In Memoriam

Stars owner Bill Daniels passed away on March 7, 2000 at the age of 79. New York Times obituary.

Head Coach Joe Mullaney (Stars ’73-’74) died of cancer on March 8, 2000 one day after his former boss Bill Daniels passed away. Mullany was 74 years old. New York Times obituary.

Center Zelmo Beaty (Stars ’70-’74) died of cancer on August 27, 2013. The three-time ABA All-Star was 73. Salt Lake Tribune obituary.

Center Moses Malone (Stars ’74-’75) died in his sleep from heart disease on September 13, 2015 at age 60. New York Times obituary.

 

Links

American Basketball Association Media Guides

American Basketball Association Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 24th, 2017 at 9:32 pm

1968-1970 Los Angeles Stars

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Los Angeles Stars vs. Dallas Chaparalls. January 7, 1970American Basketball Association (1968-1970)

Born: 1968 – The Anaheim Amigos relocate to Los Angeles, CA.
Moved: June 11, 1970 (Utah Stars)

Arena: Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena

Team Colors:

Owner: Jim Kirst

ABA Championships: None

 

The Los Angeles Stars basketball team was a short-lived effort by the American Basketball Association to plant its flag in L.A. during the early years of its rivalry with the National Basketball Association.  The Stars labored in the shadows of the NBA’s Lakers and never established a substantial following.

1968-69 Los Angeles Stars Media GuideThe Stars, coached by Hall-of-Famer (and future Lakers coach) Bill Sharman, did enjoy a thrilling Cinderella playoff run at the end of its second and final season in L.A.  As late as March 1970, the Stars sat in last place in the ABA’s Western Division.  But Sharman’s club had talent, sparked by guard Mack Calvin and fellow rookie Willie Wise at small forward.  A late season surge saw the Stars grab the final Western Division playoff spot with a 43-31 fourth place finish.  The Stars then upended the Dallas Chaparrals and the  top-seeded Denver Rockets to earn a trip to the ABA Championship Series against the Indiana Pacers.  The Pacers, a league-best 59-25 in the  regular season, ended the Stars’ unlikely run with a 4-2 series victory.

The 6th and deciding game of the 1970 ABA Championship Series was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena on May 25, 1970.  The Pacers won 111-107 before 8,233 fans – the largest crowd in Stars franchise history.  It was also the last crowd in the team’s brief existence in Southern California.  By this time, the Stars departure was already in the works.  Owner Jim Kirst sold the troubled club to Denver-based cable television entrepreneur Bill Daniels in March of 1970.  Two weeks following the Game 6 loss in the finals, Daniels announced the club would move to Salt Lake City for the 1970-71 ABA season.

Daniels’ Utah Stars became a league powerhouse during the early 1970’s, appearing in three more ABA finals series, and winning the championship in 1971.  The franchise folded in December 1975 and the ABA closed down the following spring.

 

Los Angeles Stars ABA Shop

Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto

 

Los Angeles Stars ABA Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Forward Wayne Hightower (Stars ’69-’70) died of a heart attack on April 18, 2002. He was 62.  New York Times obituary.

Former Stars Head Coach Bill Sharman passed away at age 87 on October 25, 2013.

 

Links

American Basketball Association Media Guides

American Basketball Association Programs

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Written by AC

October 20th, 2014 at 2:42 am

1970-1972 Pittsburgh Condors

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John Brisker Pittsburgh CondorsAmerican Basketball Association (1970-1972)

Born: Summer 1970 – The Pittsburgh Pipers/Pioneers are re-branded as the Pittsburgh Condors
Folded: June 13, 1972

Arena: Pittsburgh Civic Arena

Team Colors:

Owners: Haven Industries (represented by Don Bezahler)

ABA Championships: None

 

Western Pennsylvania sports fans didn’t care much for the Pittsburgh Condors of the American Basketball Association.  But this odd little team has become a cult favorite of ABA collectors and nostalgists thanks to its short life span, deeply weird storylines and some great-looking-but-very-rare memorabilia.

Case in point: a very scarce 1970-71 Condors media guide (like the one above right) is currently selling for $500.00 on e-Bay.  That’s John Brisker on the cover pictured in sombrero and six shooters.  Brisker was a sensational scorer and also a volatile, heat-packing brawler who terrified opponents and teammates alike.  No one has seen Brisker since 1978.  The most popular theory is that he died in Uganda fighting as a mercenary for Idi Amin.

1971-72 Pittsburgh CondorsThe Condors were a continuation of the ABA’s Pittsburgh Pipers franchise, which was an equally strange operation.  The Condors were one of the ABA’s original eleven franchises in 1967.  They were the best team in the league that first season (54-24) and won the inaugural championship, thanks in large part to future Hall-of-Famer Connie Hawkins.  But after that first ABA season, Condors owner Gabe Rubin moved the franchise to Minneapolis, where another ABA club had just failed.  When the Pipers failed to generate any interest in the Twin Cities, Rubin dragged the club back to Pittsburgh, of all places, for the ABA’s third season in 1969-70. Pittsburgh fans were not in a forgiving mood.  The 1969-70 Pipers played to a near-empty Civic Arena on most nights.  Compounding matters, Hawkins had left for the NBA and the team was a terrible (29-55), a shell of its championship form two winters earlier.

In April 1970 Gabe Rubin unloaded the Pipers on a New York conglomerate named Haven Industries that ran businesses ranging from sugar refining to livery services.  Remarkably, the new owners decided to keep the team in Pittsburgh, despite the monolithic apathy of the locals.  They decided the problem was the Pipers identity and set about holding a Name The Team contest to re-brand the team.  The prize for the winning entry was $500.00 cash.

Law student Don Seymour proposed the name “Pittsburgh Pioneers”, taking 57 words to explain why.  Club officials dug Seymour’s concept and named him the winner.  Trouble was, a woman named Angela Weaver also submitted the name “Pioneers” and, unlike Seymour, she kept her submission within the 25-word limit stated in the contest rules.  And Angela Weaver’s husband was an attorney.  And besides that a small downtown Pittsburgh college already used the name Pioneers and threatened to litigate.  And so the Pipers abandoned their bungled Name The Team contest and became the “Pittsburgh Condors” for no special reason.

On the court, the new management hired former Cincinnati Royals and San Diego Rockets (NBA) head man Jack McMahon to turn around the Condors’ fortunes.  Although Brisker and Mike Lewis were named to the 1971 ABA All-Star Game, the Condors struggled to a 36-48 finish and missed the playoffs.  Attendance was terrible a 2,806 per game, a figure inflated by massive ticket giveaways, if not outright deception, according to the ABA’s premier historian Arthur Hundhausen of RememberTheABA.com.

The Condors’ second and final campaign in the winter of 1971-72 was worst still.  GM Mark Binstein canned Jack McMahon after a 4-6 start and named himself Head Coach, despite no previous experience.  Attendance plummeted further, fueling rumors that the Condors would disband or relocate while the season was still in progress.  After the New Year, the Condors started moving games all over the country rather than play to empty seats in Pittsburgh.  There were rumors the Condors could end up in Cincinnati, El Paso, New Haven or San Diego for the 1972-73 season.  Pittsburgh’s final “home” game of the 1971-72 season was played in Tucson, Arizona, of all places, on March 28, 1972.  In typical fashion, the Condors lost to the Kentucky Colonels in a high scoring shootout 134-132.  The club would never play in Pittsburgh again.

The Condors had the worst record in the ABA in 1971-72 at 25-59.  The various rumored relocations fell through and the ABA terminated the Condors franchise on June 13, 1972.

 

Pittsburgh Condors Shop

Condors Distressed Retro T-Shirt by TSHIRTCZAR

 

In Memoriam

Forward John Brisker disappeared in Uganda in April 1978 and was never heard from again.  Brisker was declared legally dead in 1985.

Condors Head Coach Jack McMahon passed away at age 60 on June 11, 1989.

 

Links

Pittsburgh Condors on RememberTheABA.com

American Basketball Association Media Guides

American Basketball Association Programs

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1967-1969 Houston Mavericks

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Houston MavericksAmerican Basketball Association (1967-1969)

Born: February 2, 1967 – ABA founding franchise.
Moved: 1969 – The Mavericks relocate to North Carolina (Carolina Cougars).

Arena: Sam Houston Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owners:

ABA Championships: None

 

The Houston Mavericks were a short-lived and spectacularly unpopular franchise in the iconic American Basketball Association (1967-1976). Awarded as one of the league’s founding franchises on February 2, 1967, the Mavs were owned by Texas oilman T.C. Morrow, one the new league’s wealthiest backers.

Things got off to a rough start when Mavs Head Coach & General Manager Slater Martin traveled to Oakland for the ABA’s first college draft in 1967. Martin learned that Morrow and his partners neglected to post the team’s $30,000 performance bond that was required to participate in the draft. Slater, shut out of the draft room, desperately phoned bankers back in Texas to raise the money. By the time he satisfied ABA officials, the draft was in the 5th round. The club was cobbled together from journeymen and finished 29-49 in 1967-68.

Worse than the on-court mediocrity was the apathy of the Houston citizenry to the city’s first professional basketball team. Houston had the worst attendance in the ABA. Regardless of what the team claimed, reporters often eye-balled crowds in the low triple digits at the 8,900-seat Sam Houston Coliseum.

In March 1968 the Mavericks sparked a feud with the National Basketball Association as both leagues courted University of Houston star Elvin Hayes. T.C. Morrow offered Hayes a two-year $500,000 contract to sign with the ABA, but Hayes declined to even negotiate with the Mavericks. He took less money to sign with the San Diego Rockets of the NBA, where he was the #1 overall selection in the 1968 draft. Stunned by the rejection, Morrow accused the Rockets of illegally paying Hayes under the table while he was still playing college basketball. The Mavericks also pursued Hayes’ University of Houston teammate Don Chaney, another NBA 1st round draft pick. Like Hayes, Chaney spurned the ABA in favor of the established league.

Morrow lost interest early in the ABA’s second season in 1968-69. He walked away and turned the franchise back to the league in late 1968. The ABA quietly operated the Mavs for several weeks as wards of the league.

Meanwhile, Commissioner George Mikan grew increasingly concerned about the abysmal support for the Mavericks in Houston and attempted to send players to Houston who might spark more fan interest. The only problem was that Mavs coach Slater Martin (Mikan’s former teammate on five NBA world championship teams with the Minneapolis Lakers) didn’t want the players Mikan was foisting on him. Martin quit midway through the season.

ABA soon officials found a new buyer for the Mavericks in former North Carolina congressman James Gardner. Gardner took over the club in January 1969. He agreed to finish out the season in Houston, but made it clear that the club would move to North Carolina for the 1969-70 season. This left the Mavs to finish the 1968-69 campaign as lame ducks.

The ABA’ brief two-year stay in Houston came to a merciful end on April 2, 1969, when the Mavs defeated the New York Nets 149-132 in the season finale at Sam Houston Coliseum. By this point, what was left of the Mavs’ staff no longer bothered to embellish the attendance figures. The official attendance for the game was 89 fans.

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Houston Oilers AFL owner Bud Adams was a minority partner in the original Houston Mavericks ownership group led by T.C. Morrow.

The Mavs franchise existed for the entire nine-season run of the ABA. The club became the Carolina Cougars from 1969-1974 and later moved again to become the Spirits of St. Louis from 1974 to 1976. The franchise folded when the ABA merged with the NBA in 1976.

Seven years after the Houston Mavericks tried to sign him, Don Chaney would sign with the former Mavs franchise, playing the 1975-76 season with the Spirits of St. Louis.

Two years after the Mavs left town, Houston got an NBA franchise when the San Diego Rockets moved to town in 1971. The Rockets brought Elvin Hayes – the player most coveted by the Mavericks – with them.

 

Houston Mavericks Shop

Loose Balls: The Short Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto

 

Houston Mavericks Memorabilia

 

Links

American Basketball Association Media Guides

American Basketball Association Programs

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Written by AC

January 5th, 2013 at 4:20 am

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